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Audi CEO's Privacy Appeal Takes Aim at Google's Car Push

The emergence of self-driving and connected cars is shaking up the pecking order between carmakers and their suppliers.

Vjeran Pavic

Volkswagen’s Audi will take a stringent line on guarding customers’ data, the carmaker’s chief executive said on Tuesday, in a thinly veiled swipe at new rival Google.

The emergence of self-driving and connected cars has made software a key component in future cars, opening the market to new entrants like Google, and shaking up the pecking order between carmakers and their suppliers. Software-driven cars also throw up new questions about who should control data generated by connected cars and drivers, forcing companies to take a clear stance on data privacy.

“A car is one’s second living room today,” Audi Chief Executive Rupert Stadler said on Tuesday at a business event in Berlin attended by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. “That’s private. The only person who needs access to the data onboard is the customer,” Stadler said, adding Audi “takes that seriously.”

Information about the location and speed of a car could be attractive to advertisers, insurance and communications companies who could use the data for their own commercial purposes.

Germany’s auto industry has lobbied regulators to take a restrictive line on data privacy, a step which could make it harder for software and telecom companies to establish a data-driven business case in the auto sector. “The customer wants to be at the focus, and does not want to be exploited,” said Stadler.

The remarks of the CEO of VW’s flagship division echo a similar stance on privacy taken by rival Daimler which has, like Audi, developed an autonomous car. As part of their own push into software and autonomous cars, Audi, Daimler’s Mercedes and BMW, together with private equity firm General Atlantic, are jointly bidding for Nokia’s mapping unit HERE, sources told Reuters last month.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan. Writing by Andreas Cremer and Edward Taylor. Editing by Louise Heavens.)

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